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Effect of drought on local dairy farms is slight but western drought is coming

August 1, 2012

PENNSYLVANIA & NEW YORK — According to agriculture officials, nearly one third of the counties in the United Sates have been declared disaster areas due to the severest drought since the Dust Bowl days in the 1930s.

“Eastern states, including Pennsylvania, have escaped much of the drought,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. “However, forecasters say that, as the drought expands eastward, they, too, will suffer.”

Fuchs said that, hopefully, the areas that have been on the fringe will get through their growing season. “It does look like the drought is going to spread in the next several months,” he said.

Ed Pruss, Cornell Extension agriculture educator in Wayne County, said that local dairy farmers will feel the effects of the drought “in the high prices for feed that they will have to pay come October through next year. We’ve been dry and it’s been hot, but we came into this growing season with a decent amount of moisture in the soil. And our season was early, too.

Many of the farmers got out early to harvest the hay, which is to their advantage. We did run into some problems with the string of 90-degree days, when some of the fields were not pushing out the re-growth.”

The National Weather Bureau is forecasting above-normal temperatures through October for two-thirds of the country, including Pennsylvania and its neighboring states.

“There’s not a good likelihood for relief in the coming months,” said Dan Collins, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Water tables typically drop during summer months, with more people washing cars, watering lawns and gardens and filling swimming pools.”

Arden Tewksbury of the Progressive Agriculture Organization in Meshoppen, PA has suggested several actions to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak that could be used to relieve farmers. “We urge that the secretary work to relax the Conservation Reserve Land program that holds fields deliberately dormant to production,” he said. “We also urge the ag committee to investigate the amount of hay, corn and other products that are being exported, thereby making the products available to all farmers in the U.S. A third measure would urge that some of the corn used for ethanol be released for livestock producers.”

Tewksbury asks further that disaster loans be made more available to the farmers who have suffered most from the drought. “Dairy farmers have no way to recoup their losses with the pricing system that is currently being used by the USDA,” he said.